Why I’m Worried About an All-Female Expendables

I really enjoyed The Expendables - and look forward to having time to watch the blu-ray again. The sequel? Not so much. But the first one - ah, the first one. It was direct and did what it said on the tin; no namby-pamby fannying around dithering behaviour, but actual find-him-and-kill-him, do-it-or-don’t-but-do-some-bloody-thing action. I found it funny (sometimes unintentionally perhaps, but funny nonetheless), satisfying (Statham showing the ‘new boyfriend’ what he does for a living) and just plain visceral fun. Guns that would give the BFG9000 a run for its money, tough-as-nails blokes going on about love and life in their own manly way, and just plain blokeishness at its best. Yes, I enjoyed it.

Apparently an all-female Expendables is in the works. Various reports of such stellar choices as Gina Carano and Katee Sackhoff have only served to get me sale-on-at-Things-From-Another-World excited. I began to think of names, of a wish-list, that could be cast - Lucy Lawless, Gabrielle Anwar (OH GOD PLEASE GABRIELLE ANWAR), Kate Beckinsale, Michelle Yeoh, Helen Mirren, Claudia Black, Danai Gurira, Sarah Michelle Geller, Rhona Mitra, Michelle Rodriguez, Judi Dench, Alicia Keyes, Nana Visitor, Gina Torres, Salma Hayek, Lucy Liu, Sigourney Weaver, Pam Grier, Milla Jovovich, Linda Hamilton, Summer Glau, Zoe Saldana, and so on.

And then I paused. I got quiet. I got worried. Why? Here’s the rub: the original Expendables worked so well because it was about blokes, written by blokes, for blokes. Men liked it (I think) and us women liked it too. (Admittedly, half of the attraction was so many sweaty men getting their shirts off, but that’s what men think some men and women like to watch, and they’re not always wrong. And it was only half the attraction.) Can you think of one good female superhero movie? It’s hard. And if you can find one, did it make any money?

Why is this? Why is Ellen Ripley pretty much the only recurring ‘good guy’ female in a lead role? Did you know that Ripley was a man in the original script - and they just changed the pronouns and carried on regardless when they cast Sigourney Weaver? Maybe that had something to do with how well Ripley was written. So why do female-heavy movies tank at the box office? It’s not me, trust me - I always turn out to support women in their celluloid efforts to represent the 51% of the world’s population.

Simple fact: women have to hold their own against men. Horrible fact: women also have to hold their own against other women.

But then. Ah, but then

The internet has come a long way. It used to be about communication. Now that communication has turned into tumblr and other places for fan-worship. Phrases like ‘girl crush’ and ‘babies’ gets bandied about more than a full stop (if you use tumblr you’ll know exactly what I mean). It’s easier today for people to admit (anonymously, of course) that they love actresses like Scarlett Johansson ‘so hard’ - not in an ‘I fancy her’ way (well, not only), but in an ‘I want her to do well’ way. Before this silent revolution, women had two choices: feel indifferent about an actress, or actively despise them because society told you they could never be as good as male actors - or because it simply wasn’t done to be seen doing anything else.

Nowadays there’s a new option: you are allowed to like them, to express how happy you are that they’re getting roles and doing well, to show how much you appreciate that a women is gaining enough of a reputation as an actress and gets the same respect - and pay - as her male counterparts. Attitudes of women to women in film and media are changing - in a good way. Perhaps in another ten years we’ll be able to look at women in film as purely (lead) characters, and not ‘the girl they added to make it look inclusive’.

If that out-of-date view that, because you’re a woman you shouldn’t like women in film, is not the only reason that female-led movies bomb (because people like me go to see how bad it will be out of curiosity anyway), then what could it be? Could it be the writing? Yes - blame the writers! Find their offices and burn them down!

But wait. Writers get paid to deliver a script. They do. Then People In Charge - say, producers, directors, script ‘doctors’, those pesky eev-vil (like fru-its of the devil) mythical studio executives, etc. - decide that there aren’t enough explosions, or not enough clothes-sheddage, or something else that has nothing to do with plot but gets bums on seats. So they tinker. They meddle. And somewhere along the way, the writer’s dream of a perfect female-led thriller/action/comedy vehicle is subverted into Barb Wire.

Once upon a time, I watched Torchwood. I liked it, even though I found Gwen mildly to moderately annoying at times. But overall it was an interesting show and I stuck with it. Then series four came along, and I got back into it. The strange thing was, suddenly Gwen was good. I liked her character - even cheered for her toward the end when we were getting to the Big Reveal and Climactic Finish. Now why could that be? Why had I put up with her as a trivial annoyance for three series, and then suddenly found her a great character? Imagine my surprise when I looked up the writers. Jane Espenson. A woman.

Now this doesn’t mean that only women should write female characters - nearly every comic book writer in the world can write a ‘decent’ female. (And those that do it right? How do they do that, exactly?) But sometimes, when you need just that slight push in the right direction, you need someone who knows. As the great Stephen Fry once reminded Alan Davies: write about what you know, what you can see out of the window. Well, everyone sees women about the place and that’s fine, but when men’s normal cry is ‘no-one can ever understand women so don’t even try’, why are all the action flicks about and for women written by men?

We could descend into studio politics, lack of women scriptwriters, inability to pair good scriptwriters with action flicks because women are expected to dole out Jerry Maguire or the latest rom-com that’s a carbon copy of Sex and the City with plots bolted on by others after the fact. Or we could just accept the entire trope that women scriptwriters need to be friends with Meryl Streep, Sigourney Weaver, Carrie Fisher or Demi Moore, or they have no hope of getting anything read, never mind accepted. Yes, I know every scriptwriter has the same problem. But when you get to the level of an Expendables film, people start head-hunting.

Who do you go for? Well it’s hard to find a woman who’s already written a good female-led film - because there aren’t any. (At least, I can’t think of any. Please educate me in the comments box - I will thank you.) However, look at women who continually meet deadlines to write TV scripts, or who have previously only managed to sell rom-coms, and the list starts to develop itself. And if you can get a good female scriptwriter, you have a chance at getting a good director. I’d recommend Kathryn Bigelow. Her sweeping of the Oscars with The Hurt Locker (and the way the film came over to me) is credentials enough. Now you need a producer - unless she fancies that chair too.

But I’m being sexist. We do need men to make this work, too - but how male characters in the film are treated is so very crucial. Obviously, how the cast of characters comes over is everything. If the plot is ropey or the dialogue is iffy, you can manage. But if they think that, in this day and age, we’ll be happy with Charlie’s Angels (with more guns), then there’s going to be trouble. Now I love Charlie’s Angels, don’t get me wrong. They got away with it because it didn’t take itself too seriously - and that’s the problem. If an all-female Expendables is all about camping it up and going all Cameron Diaz ditzy cute on us while kicking doors down with unbelievably high heels because it’s what’s ‘expected’, then I’m out (and, for the record, I like Cameron Diaz - although my favourite was Drew Barrymore).

I’m not saying the film should be all serious, but it should at least pretend to be getting on with stuff, so that the chuckles and funny scenes come from the plot running its course, not from someone’s idea of shoe-horning in obvious clichéd jokes to pander to certain audiences (some might say ‘Moffet-esque fan-pandering’). Just as the original Expendables needed buddy-time and on-screen affirmation of bonding, the women will need it too. Just, please, do not make them reliant on their luuuuurve interest in a man to make them ‘bond’. Women in the real world make friends and get on with people (people - meaning including both men and woman) without needing to lapse into the awful Hollywood myth that all they talk about is luuuuurve and men - so please let it be the same on film.

I guess what I’m saying is (yes, there is a point to all this), that it’s going to be nigh-on impossible to get the tone just right. Too dark and gritty, too Jodie Foster Flightplan, and it’s going to tank just for its lack of a sense of humour. Too light, too many girlie-giggles and not enough credible action (Gina Carano could smash doors down like the She-Hulk, but Gabrielle Anwar? She’s more a Wing Chun slice to the throat), and it’s going to be derided as fluff for people who don’t get out much - or even worse - a film where ‘chicks’ try to look tough but actually only ponce around looking like out-of-work porn stars. What it needs is an almost James Bond-ish tone - action and excitement and danger and all those things - but with a few sly winks, a few chuckles, a few moments of the characters cheering the sweaty men or women that give them something nice to look at.

And I swear, one crack about shoes or broken nails, and I will find the writers and end them.

* Top gif, of Major Kira from DS9, was gakked from HERE.

I really wanted these pictures included but couldn't fit them in, so they're just added on the bottom here:

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Don't tell him your name, Alfred!

(With apologies to Lethal Weapon).

This is actually a Star Trek: Deep Space Nine post. Having just moved back to Blighty and with a new job to occupy my days, I've decided that I enjoyed the last rewatch so much that I'm going to start again. After all, I stopped the last one about… three months ago. I was just into season seven but Ezri annoyed me so much (for so many reasons I shall bang on about another time) that I've decided to go back to the good old days. And so to season one.

The pilot and its second part, 'Emissary', will always have a special place in my heart for the way they get the band together in the first place. It begins by ripping your heart out and eating it in front of you (Jennifer), making you agonise over which side to take (Sisko's or Picard's - in one of the best scenes ever filmed), before bringing you a bit of fun (Julian's first lines), and then some mystery and non-Starfleetness (the Kai). I liked it way more than I remembered. Some memorable meetings (Kira's "Oh… hello") and some great moments (Sisko manipulating Quark to get the promenade on its feet again), and the feeling that this is going to be a very different Trek. I grew up on Star Trek: The Next Generation, and there's nothing wrong with the series. But toward the end I was a little tired of the alrightness, of the way most things were settled, or a giant reset button was punched so people could be brought back to life, or healed, or helped so they were better off than when the episode started. Over time, it began to make the series feel a little dull. So this new series, this DS9, piqued my interest. This bloke in charge, this Starfleet commander - he uses Ferengi tradition to get what he wants out of local barkeeps. He requested a local as his liaison officer - and although he's already had a few fights and rough patches with Major Kira, he also seems willing to trust her, given enough reason. He is Starfleet, underneath it all.

And then came episode 1x03: Past Prologue. Excellent episode about trust, new beginnings, and the meaning of life. Well, the meaning of present time life, anyway. Major Kira meets a colleague from her terrorist days and vouches for his request for asylum, getting him to give up and be a force for Bajor - only to find out he lied and used her, to put his latest terrorist plot into action. (And we get Lursa and B'Etor! Yay!) Kira has terrific scenes with both Sisko and then Tahna, as she has to decide who she goes to, to reveal what the other side knows. It's only when she confides in the only person she trusts - Odo, another non-Starfleet bod - that she has time to take stock. Odo's advice that it doesn't matter who she betrays, as long as it's not herself, puts her on the right track. We're treated to a slice of sci-fi life that TNG didn't seem to give us; two non-humans, non-Starfleet personnel, talking over a murderously sticky problem. And they work it out - Kira finds her footing and goes with her instincts. She's right - but she could so easily have been wrong. That's what makes DS9 different for me - she could have got it very wrong. She very nearly did - but that's another episode in the future. By the time we get to the end of the episode, two very disparate, very forthright people are walking together in silence, united by the feeling that they accomplished something together, even if they really didn't want to. Prickly, difficult, hard-won and easily breakable, these two have a long way to go. But it's fascinating to think how shaky anyone's decisions really are. 'Your choices are half chance - just like everybody else's.' Indeed.

And here we are, at 1x04: A Man Alone. At first glance, it's about Julian and his constant friendly, if slightly annoying, chasing of Jadzia. But hold on - now we have Sisko and Jadzia having lunch because Sisko has been friends with this 28-year-old woman for two lifetimes. He calls her his mentor, his friend - "like a father" to him. That dynamic - such a young woman being a father figure to a strapping great rugby prop of a man like Sisko - is again fascinating. But wait - now it's Chief O'Brien and his wife Keiko arguing about what she's supposed to do on the station to be useful, productive. And Jake Sisko, trying to make friends with the only other lad his age - Nog the Ferengi. And oh look, now it's Odo and Ibudan, the adversary of the week, having a spat over some bad history from years before.

So it's all about relationships - some are family, some are spouses, some are old friends and some are lonely kids wanting to make friends.

Then we get a murder. Odo is suspected but Kira stands up for him - she doubts there's a "more honourable man on this station" (more old friends business). Odo begins the investigation himself - finding Ibudan departed 'Alderaan Spacedock' the day before. Well he had a lucky escape, didn't he? Even Quark has a go at defending poor Odo - he rattles off a list of his problems, but then says he knows Odo isn't a killer. Old enemies? Everyone's relationships are laid out for us to see.

Julian does some vacuuming-up of forensic evidence and we actually get to see him do some doctor science in the background. A bunch of pissed-off Bajorans, stirred up by some other Bajoran bloke, go to Ops and actually complain to Sisko about how Odo is still chief of security. Sisko is polite in telling them he's heard them, but it's Kira who tells them in no uncertain terms to piss off and take their suspicions with them. (The look Sisko gives her when she's staring down the head of the peaceful posse is suspiciously like gratitude - or admiration, perhaps.) While Julian is onto something big and plot-worthy, Sisko has the unenviable task of relieving Odo of duty, due to a conflict of interest. Kira and Jadzia Dax take over the investigation, but obviously Odo can only take this to mean Sisko thinks he did it. Whether he gets the idea of 'conflict of interest' or not, or how it pertains to him, he's still royally pissed off. When he finds the security office vandalised, including racial slurs on the wall, it's obvious he's hitting his personal rock bottom. Quark drops by and, quite curiously, gives out free information. Feeling sorry for his old enemy? Or missing him already?

Julian and Sisko chat about the lives of Dax - just to hammer home how Jadzia might be the same, but different to Dax's last host. But even Morn leaves when Odo tries to sit at Quark's bar. I'd expected better of you, Morn. On a bright note, Keiko sets up a new school and its only classroom, and Miles turns up with little kid Molly to present her with a new school bell. Trouble is, Odo is trying to walk down the promenade when an ugly mob turns up to hound him into the security office. Kira grabs a few security dudes and off they go, before someone does the poor shapeshifter some damage. It's Sisko who asks them to think about what they're doing, who asks them how they'll feel in an hour when they've all cooled off. Luckily, Julian discovers the truth through science (because SCIENCE!), and it doesn't take long to wrap up the episode.

So what do we get from this? Relationships make the most interesting stories? Hate, revenge, loyalty, faith and treachery. Lovely. Some ace acting and good writing. The season is still getting better, but it's not bad to begin with. Sisko's end log, about how Odo hasn't even received any apologies for how half the people on the station treated him, bodes well for the future. I know it has a good one.

It's one of those shows - you can't do just one. Think I'll stick around for the next one.



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Doctor Who’s 50th Episode

You, dear single solitary reader, know that I like Doctor bloody Who. I’ve done posts on the subject of the show, and once upon a time, this blog had a weekly vent as to how the ongoing series was doing.

Over time it trickled to a stop. Why was that? Was it really that I didn’t have enough time? Or was it the episodes that changed? The writing, perhaps?

Now we get to it. Some of the time, the writing and the episodes are pretty good. They do a good job of keeping me interested in the franchise as a whole. Rarely (these days), the episodes are brilliant and they match the energy and acting skills of Matt Smith, and are worthy of his time. I’m not saying he’s a better actor than David Tennant, or any of the other Doctors. I’m saying the episodes have been lacking, and he’s been wasted. Put him up against David Tennant and I guarantee you would find reasons for calling each of them better at some point. Strengths and weaknesses, swings and roundabouts, then.

Which brings us to the 50th anniversary episode, ‘The Day of the Doctor’. Those who haven’t seen it, look away now.

Warning! Danger, Will Robinson!

Where do we start? Let’s start with something like 10.6 million people watching the episode live on Saturday, 23rd November. It was the same day that it first aired, albeit 50 years before, which was why half of us were there. It started well - the original opening from 1963 played and it all seemed fab. Then we get Billy Piper back as Rose - except she’s not. She’s just the voice of the WMD of the plot (that will seem ironic, in that ‘Rose Tyler’ is telling the Doctor to have a conscience, when in fact the Doctor that would have listened to her could neither see nor hear her). The actress is brought back sheerly because of her face. She’s not Rose, she’s a GUI for John Hurt’s use. Billie Piper is not a poor actress and I was happy to see her again - she played the part well enough for me to realise in the first few moments that she wasn’t Rose at all.

Then in comes John Hurt as ‘The War Doctor’. When I went to the official celebration on Sunday 24th November in the ExCel, London, I got to hear Steven Moffat’s reaction to the fans and the episode - and hear his reasoning behind it. And a few things grated. First, there was his idea that we shouldn’t be sticking to the whole ‘silly’ 12 regenerations and out, idea. Second, that he felt Tom Baker’s appearance at the end was just for fun and ‘for the fans’. Then there was his assertion that John Hurt’s ‘War Doctor’ doesn’t count as a ‘Doctor’ because he didn’t apply that name to himself - he considered himself not a Doctor at all, because he was apparently fighting in a war, not healing or fixing things.

BOLLOCKS, Mr Moffat. He’s ‘the War Doctor’. Three words, one of which is ‘Doctor’. This whole thing about his real name, this whole side trip to hype DW up to the point where it’s something more mythical and fantastic that it is, just so you can burn it down by eradicating all the mystery, is ridiculous. When you’re a child and you’re making up stories, and you escalate it more and more but then realise that you can’t finish it because you just can’t pull out that one aspect that would top everything and be mind-blowing and genius because THERE IS NOTHING IN THE STORY TO DO THAT - that’s where Moffat is, most days, I’m sure.

Getting back to John Hurt, Moffat seems to regard him as the 9th Doctor. I have no issue with that. The little webisode that was released (not very fairly, considering some people won’t have seen it before the 50th) showed me that Paul McGann - who SHOULD HAVE BEEN THE WAR DOCTOR IN THE ANNIVERSARY EPISODE - regenerated into John Hurt. I saw it. He had a new face, a new body. What wasn’t clear was whether he started as John Hurt with 12 new regenerations (seeing as the elixir he drank supposedly brought him back to life - or gave him new life?). I’d like to think… no. Because John Hurt was the 9th Doctor. Sorry, 9, 10 and 11 - you’ve all been bumped along one. Which makes Peter Capaldi the 13th Doctor, and therefore the last.

Oh don’t look at me like that. Yes, I believe there should be 12 regenerations, otherwise the programme would go on and on until it turned into Smallville, A.K.A. the series that wouldn’t die. Have a spin-off all about Romana (seeing as it was never confirmed or even mentioned where she was during this ‘Time War’). Have a spin-off with the Doctor’s Daughter. Have a spin-off about Donna Noble. Have a spin-off about Martha Jones and Mickey Smith working for U.N.I.T. Bring back Torchwood, but with more Gallifreyans in it. I don’t care - but don’t piss about with the 12 regenerations theory, just so Moffat can keep on doling out substandard shite and passing it off as ‘something the fans will love’.

And while we’re on that subject, pack it in, Moffat. Making shit up and then trying to justify it afterwards when people point out how it made no sense is no way to run a series. Bringing out a Sherlock trailer the day after DW airs, just to distract us with something else shiny, does not work. Sherlock is a completely different animal, and it bears no relation to the whole furore surrounding DW right now.

When I was at the ExCel in London on Sunday to hear the panels and see the fallout from ‘The Day of the Doctor’. I really enjoyed listening to everyone - but I wanted to punch Moffat. Everything out of his mouth made me want to stand up and ask him why, or how, but most especially WHY THE BLOODY HELL HE INCLUDED TOM BAKER AT THE END, WHEN IT MADE NO SENSE. I’m all for including Doctors, but when one of them is significantly aged more than when he was dying and regenerated, how can he be there like that? And don't go ‘wibbly wobbly, timey wimey’, Moffat, because that’s just pathetic. Explain it. Don’t expect that we’ll be so dazzled by a JJ Abrams-bomb that we’ll blindly find it hilarious and a ‘touching’ end to a so-so episode. It was stupid, and it stuck out like a sore thumb. I really do think Moffat just whacks this stuff in there as in-jokes and ‘look at me, I can bring you all this’, when in fact it doesn’t make sense and it shouldn’t be there. It’s not big and it’s not clever, Moffat. It just invokes Fridge Logic and enrages fans.

Tom Baker could have been just a curator. He could have been someone a little bit eccentric who the Doctor met and liked. But implying so heavily that he was the Doctor? Bollocks. Wrong. Annoyingly so.

In short, I did enjoy a lot of the episode. It’s always good to see David Tennant as the Doctor, and this was no exception. I liked how they got along. I liked the door argument, I liked how they brought in other Doctors, and that we saw more of Gallifrey (and, by the by, how the head Gallifreyan said he saw ‘all 13’ Doctors at the end in the TARDISes). There was a lot to like. But there were points where Moffat, again, brought his own indulgence into it. Forget Russell T. Davies' efforts to squeeze in things he liked - Moffat does it like it’s owed to him. And I really, really despise that. I hope with Peter Capaldi coming in, the tone changes slightly, and we get good stories to really ground this new Doctor. After all, we now have a new Doctor and a companion whose back-story and Being Very Speyshall moment has passed. There is so much potential here for a fantastic series - and hopefully, Capaldi will stay for a few years.

More than anything, I hope Steven Moffat hands the show over to someone who isn’t all about the shiny things they can flash in our faces, in the hope that we won’t notice the plot holes and his failure to finish off a decent story.

Rant over. I need a cup of tea.

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On Returning to Blighty After an 11 Year Absence

How to relocate to a country you left behind 11 years ago:

1. Close all accounts, utilities and communication channels in your life, related to where you are leaving.
2. Change addresses for local government and council registries in the country you will go to.
3. Un-learn everything you have come to accept as normal in the last 11 years.
4. Learn how to operate in a country of a different continent. WARNING: things that you thought you knew will all have changed. No, you will not be able to pick up where you left off. No, the protocols and methods of local government or utilities that you knew will no longer work like you remember. Good luck.
5. When people say “but you know that, you’re from here and you did it for 25 years before you left”, gently remind them that you’ve been away for 11 years - the length of time many people spent in education in their life.

Saying Goodbye

Had my last archery lesson in Hong Kong yesterday. It was fun, and I felt I was finally up to speed with my new bow (a Mathews Conquest Prestige called Nerys). It was great. Until it came time to end it and say goodbye.

I am an emotional person, I know. But I normally hide my real feelings from others - unless it’s anger, disgust or approval. Everything else is kept neatly locked away. I do feel it. I just don’t want other people to see it on my face. It’s just how I am - and I’m not a crier. I get angry, or Hulk-out with long words and facts, but I don’t cry. So when I suddenly feel soul-crushing sadness and actually feel like I’m going to cry, it’s hard to keep it in check.

The archery lesson ended. I didn’t feel sad - I felt good. The day had been a very, very good one, and everything had gone as I’d planned. I had recovered my score level from before I changed to a brand new, unused bow. I had got back to my own personal level of concentration and comfort, with a new bow. I felt happy.

I went home. I got a call from my coach - I’d forgotten to return the fletching jig that I’d borrowed to prep some brand new V6 arrows before the outdoor shoot. We agreed he could swing by and pick them up from near me Sunday morning. I got ready and went out for my official leaving do, at the Hard Rock Café. We had fun. The resident band, Black Widow, was as bloody good as ever, and we shouted along to the songs with glee. Loads of people attended - and I realised I didn’t think I had that many people I wanted to be there. I got home, went to bed, tried to sleep off the drink, woke up, got ready, and made sure I had all of the borrowed items to give back to my coach.

I met him outside my residential block. And as I stood there, thanking my coach for everything he’s done for me in the past year, all the feelings hit me like a brick in the face. He’s always been in the background of my week, ready for me to arrive for the lesson or the outdoor shoot, letting me stay longer, discussing makes, models, technical specifications, physical demands - and how I can improve as an archer. How to be better; how to use the different parts of myself to better my concentration; how to turn myself into someone who knows how they work, and more importantly, own all those parts of myself that I didn’t like.

Sounds kind of deep, right? I suppose it is. I suppose that’s why they’re called coaches and not teachers - he may as well be Master Yoda, or the Stephen Fry of my archery world.

I was sad, yes. I knew I was about to cry if I told him that losing him as a coach may be the worst thing about leaving Hong Kong. So instead I exchanged postal addresses and updated e-mail addresses, and said that I’d keep in touch with pictures and info about my prospective local club and how I went on in FITA rankings and such. He was happy. At least his face was. I know mine was. But I wasn’t.

But what do you do? I thanked him, returned his gear, and went back up to my flat and pretended I wasn’t feeling like I wanted to cry it out. Instead I helped my flatmate move some of her stuff to her new home round the corner. Job done.

I went to the afternoon hotel tea arranged by my mate, and we had some really good food (that was very welcome after the night before). We moved on to the pub quiz a few streets away. Our team actually won (thanks to a visiting acquaintance), and got free shots as prizes. We got ready to go, and that same feeling of overwhelming sadness hit me. I think I just about got away with hiding how upset I was on the inside - I got my big goodbye from the world’s best barman, and then as I was saying the goodbye things I always say to him, that’s when it hit me that I wouldn’t be saying that again. At least, not for the next few years. I had my last hug. I had my last goodbye. I managed not to cry, managed to look normal.

We were on the street, waiting for a taxi home. The quiz master came out to say goodbye. I nearly lost it - we had a quick chat about how many years I’d been going there, how the place had changed, how the people had changed, and wished each other luck, exchanged e-mail addresses etc. I got a hug and managed to leave, dignity intact.

On the way home I thought about all the people I’m leaving behind. I wasn’t sad before. I am now.

I have a full day tomorrow - packing the last box, making sure I haven’t forgotten anything I’ll need, and then handing it all over to the shipping company in the afternoon. I have my last nails appointment (if you think I’m taking on Blighty without the requisite nail camouflage then you’re sadly mistaken) in the evening, and then it’s Tuesday. Packing my suitcase, checking in online for my flight, and then dinner with friends in the evening. Then it’s Wednesday. Last minute checks, then checking in my cases in the afternoon - and then waiting around for my plane.

I’m looking forward to the flight. I’m just not prepared to handle all the sadness surrounding it. I never knew I was so out of practice as far as emotional control went. I never knew it would affect me this much. But I should have known - I’ve always had a slow emotional build-up to everything. It takes me weeks to begin to like someone. It takes me a while to recognise that I like something enough to buy it. And it takes me a while to process all the sadness at my leaving here.

The actual country of Hong Kong can go jump; I will not miss the people, or the red tape, or the various systems in place. I will miss my friends. I will miss having my flatmate to talk to and have TV series and movie marathons with and share good tea with. I will miss everyone who has always been good to me, and let me look out for them. I’ll miss how easily I find all of them when I want to.

I guess what I’m saying is I’ll miss the life that I’ve built here. I never even considered that I had one. In the eleven years I’ve been here, it’s been struggle, work, struggle, more work, struggle, paperwork, struggle, pay tax, struggle, go to Uni, struggle, get a better job, struggle, find out the job is letting you down monumentally badly, struggle some more - and leave. I never noticed that, yes, life happened while I was busying wishing I could make other plans. I like the people I’ve made friends with, I like them being here, even if I don’t see them as much as I used to when other flatmates were here, and my lifestyle was disposable. Now I’m older, more tired, completely ready to leave this country for what I hope is a better one. Whether it is or not is irrelevant; I have to leave here, I have to get out before it drives me completely mad. It’s not where I’m supposed to be. I don’t know where I am supposed to be, but I’m one up - I know I can cross this place off the list of options.

I do have fond memories; the nights out in Wan Chai and the mahoosive bar bills we paid easily because we had disposable incomes and consciences; Patrick the taxi driver who communicated solely through the medium of English swear words; the pub quizzes where we won alcohol as Waldorf and Statler, or We Don’t Google; the live rock band round the corner and the patrons who paid for us to keep drinking so we’d keep singing; the ladies in the TWG tea shop who always recognised us; the cigarette breaks when we didn’t even smoke; the naked man I found on the sofa the next morning; the red wine meltdown and my mop of bleach; the chimichangas across the street; the fan club e-mails and the website translation; the karaoke every month with the uni crowd of drinkers; the Doctor Who discussions with former students, the First Class flight to Bangkok and the champagne and cake; walking home in the pissing rain during a typhoon number 8, the woman in the computer shop who knew exactly what I was looking for without me even saying or pointing; wandering home at 5:30am to have a young woman give me a beef dumpling, because she’d bought too many, and the consequent conversation we had; the man upstairs in the Wah Po Building who practised the cello right when I needed some soothing background music; the workmen at North Street who put my flat right in under eight hours, owning my first iPod and finding it the best damn thing to stop HK people getting on my nerves on the way to work; going to the cinema and seeing the Guangdong Investment Tower - my bus stop - being used in the country’s biggest selling film in the last twenty years, setting fire to the instant noodles in 7-11, the bar-top dancing and the Olympic marks we gave the participants, the Games Nights and the Outback Steakhouse…

There - I’ve talked myself into a better mood. Hope it keeps tomorrow.

Peach and lube, people. Peach and lube.